A suitable primer for an improving player

11/9/2014 – The First Steps series of Fritztrainer DVDs by ChessBase is originally aimed at players rated below 2200. Andrew Martin's First steps in Pawn Structures is a "heartily recommended" example, according to Priyadarshan Banja, who thinks the practical value of this DVD is immense. The latest interactive format enables you to study positionand recall all the plans and ideas you had learnt. Review.

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Andrew Martin:
First steps in Pawn Structures

Review by Priyadarshan Banjan

It is the penultimate round of the tournament. There you are, sitting hunched over the board trying to figure out your next move as the clock manning the board ticks on, like a time bomb excited to explode. It is move twelve, a Kings Indian Defence, and the position is closed, pawns interlocked in an embrace. You know you have the position under control, or that’s what your chess engine told you a week back when you were casually watching a Nakamura game online, presuming its suggested moves to be your own. Yet there you are, trying to figure out your plan, your next move, sitting on your fingers, unsure what to do.

The First Steps series of Fritztrainer DVDs by ChessBase is originally aimed at players rated below 2200. The idea behind this concept is to provide the club players the basic groundwork which will introduce them to various facets of the game, leading to an increased level of knowledge and all-round improvement. The series, hosted by British International Master Andrew Martin, is a suitable primer to build the foundations based on which you can make better choices in your games.

Many a times chess games are lost due to insufficient knowledge of the techniques of handling the position. There is no dearth of chess material available on the market which may help you increase your knowledge. However, the way the material is presented in these products often assume that you as an improving player already possess the foundation knowledge which will help you grasp the advanced concepts.

The First Steps series of DVDs endeavours to help you become proficient with the basic ideas in the fields of chess strategy, technique, middlegame play, etc., improving your understanding of the game. It does not confuse you with needless variations and mistimed advice. Instead, it focuses on introducing and reinforcing the concept in your mind in a way you can understand easily.

Notice the text in the notation window? That is what an improving player needs! Clear and crisp explanation on what exactly is to be done is such positions! So, still wondering how this series will help you? Well, for starters you won’t be at sea anymore while contemplating the right plan for your next move!

"Pawns are the soul of chess, said Philidor… Newcomers to chess and amateur players don’t really understand this remark and how they can profit from it… So join with me now and prepare to improve your chess technique." – Andrew Martin (Introduction)

First Steps in Pawn Structures is the latest in the series of the ‘First Steps...’ DVDs. Staying true to the series’ aim FIDE Senior Trainer and International Master Andrew Martin seeks to explain the essence of pawn structures in a way you can understand and more importantly remember to apply in the heat of a tournament game. He focuses exclusively on this concept, especially on the pawns in the centre of the board. It is generally said that understanding the pawn configuration in the centre leads to correct development of pieces, and hence you are assured of a good game and; if your opponent goes wrong, an advantage too. IM Martin goes about doing just that in his trademark clear cut style.

In the course of studying this DVD you will gain the necessary knowledge about the various pawn centres. As IM Martin explains, understanding the central pawn formation in your games is a critical element in the formulation of plans and evaluation of positions. A picture is worth a thousand words. Have a look at a position from one of the training segments.

The position is from one of the older games by Boris Spassky. Black, on the 11th move, has just played 11...Nb4, with the logical intention of playing 12...Nd5. What will be your treatment of this position as White?

To be honest, being an improving player myself, I have time and again found myself in situations where I’m simply clueless about what move to play, despite calculating many possibilities. I am sure many fellow players suffer from the same predicament. So when I decided to work my way through this DVD, I was curious to know how the concept of pawn structures will help me play better moves.

In the above Spassky position, it seems incorrect that Black can take the liberty of moving the same piece twice when the rest of his army is lagging behind, most notably the king. You may have a vague idea of how this game might develop. Nevertheless, taking a tour of the main ideas in IQP positions with Andrew Martin made me understand the position in a concise way. As if he is speaking directly to you, he lists out in a pointed manner the plans and ideas for the side with IQP and, at the same time, the ideas available to the defending side in such positions.

For the defending side:

  • blockade the pawn,
  • develop quickly,
  • trade pieces and aim for an ending where the IQP will prove to be a weakness.

For the attacking side:

  • liquidate the IQP with a freeing break,
  • develop quickly,
  • keep the pieces on the board avoiding trades aiming for an attack.

[Event "Soviet Junior Qualifyers"] [Site "Leningrad"] [Date "1949.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Boris Spassky"] [Black "Avtonomov"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D28"] [WhiteElo "2300"] [BlackElo "2200"] [Annotator "Banjan"] [PlyCount "41"] [EventDate "1949.??.??"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Bxc4 c5 6. O-O a6 7. Qe2 Nc6 8. Nc3 b5 9. Bb3 Bb7 10. Rd1 cxd4 11. exd4 Nb4 {[%csl Yd5][%cal Rc6b4,Gb4d5] [#]} 12. d5 $1 {liquidating the pawn as recommended} Nbxd5 13. Bg5 Be7 14. Bxf6 gxf6 15. Nxd5 Bxd5 16. Bxd5 exd5 17. Nd4 {although the pieces have been traded by White here, it is only because he has a concrete way to attack} Kf8 18. Nf5 h5 19. Rxd5 Qxd5 20. Qxe7+ Kg8 21. Qxf6 {Decimation.} 1-0

Using the summarised concepts and plans that are possible in positions with such a pawn centre it becomes easy to decide upon the correct plan. This, I believe, is the strength of this DVD. Almost all the possible central pawn configurations are discussed in a similar style. Martin lists out the plans and ideas available in the respective structure and goes on to discuss the game examples with special emphasis on the said plans. The fact that the plans and ideas in positions with the respective pawn structures are listed as points make them easier to remember, apply and work with.

The structures discussed in the DVD cover the typical central pawn formations and touch upon other typical usage of pawns. The segments can broadly be divided into the following parts:

  • Classical pawn centre
  • Open centre
  • Semi open centre
  • Blocked pawn centre
  • Isolated queen’s pawn
  • Doubled pawns
  • Hanging pawns
  • Pawn chains
  • Passed pawns

The DVD does justice to each of the structures by briefly discussing the plans and ideas inherent in them for the side with the said pawn structure and the side fighting against it. This makes sure that you are well equipped to play either side of the position with confidence.

The material chosen for presentation of the concepts is a mixture of old and modern games. The thing to note about these games is that, apart from probably a couple of them, most are games which haven’t been given much attention across other study materials or products. This is partly because some games are old but unknown and the remaining are scooped out of the latest master practise. Therefore, most of the content you will be studying you might haven’t come across before.

Apart from the main part of the DVD, two additional databases have been provided for the perusal of the diligent student, viz. Pawn Structure Extra and Essential Games. These databases are an essential part of this DVD because going through these annotated extra games ensure that you are constantly in touch with the concepts, plans and ideas you learnt after studying the main DVD. The Pawn Structure Extra database contains some 20 odd games, all played in the year 2014, annotated by Martin himself. The Essential Games database is a collection of 50 games annotated by various strong players.

A careful study of these extra games after finishing the main part of the DVD should do an improving player a world of good.

In order to test how well you have understood the concepts, the lectures end with test positions. Although the lectures explaining the theory behind the pawn structures proved to be a revelation, the test positions were a disappointment. This minor dissatisfaction occurred to me because the examples used as part of the test positions were the same as the ones used as part of the main DVD lectures. For starters, this obviously made the test lose its zing; it was not ‘testing’ anymore.

The presentation of the clips is performed with the assistance of the latest interactive format which ChessBase has created. It enables you to study the position, taking your own sweet time to recall all the plans and ideas you had learnt as part of the lessons. After you execute your answer on the board, the calm voice of Andrew Martin will greet you, explaining why your chosen move was correct. However, if the move executed by you is wrong, there will be no explanation from him, just a ‘This was not the right move’ dialogue box, meaning you have to try again.

There is no doubt that this DVD achieves what it was originally aiming at: concise explanation of the plans and ideas inherent in various pawn structures and how an improving player can profit from having a sound knowledge of this subject. In spite the test positions not being quite up to the mark, the instructional value of this DVD alone is very high because it can actually be applied in practical games. The annotated extra games ensure that the studies continue even after the lectures are done with!

All in all, this DVD is good for anybody rated below 2000, as was its original intention. Nevertheless, I believe that it is a must have product for any improving player rated below 1800, because the practical value of this DVD is immense! I rate it 4½/6 stars; heartily recommended.

Priyadarshan Banjan is 21-year-old club player and a budding writer from India. He is a chess fanatic and an avid fan of Vishy Anand. He considers himself lucky to have learnt chess and intends to dedicate his entire life to learning this beautiful game.

Andrew Martin:
First steps in pawn structures

  • Video running time: 4 hours 03 minutes
  • With interactive training including video feedback
  • Database with 50 essential games
  • Including CB 12 Reader

Price: €27.90
€23.45 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU)
$29.11 (without VAT)

This DVD can be purchased as a hard copy or it can be downloaded directly from the Internet, that way sparing you the few days needed for it to arrive by post.

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Sampler: Andrew Martin - First steps in pawn structures

Topics: Andrew Martin
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